RSV shot for babies is in short supply, CDC warns

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an alert Monday stating that the RSV shot for infants, Beyfortus (nirsevimab), is in limited supply. As we head into RSV season, the agency is recommending that the shots be prioritized for babies at the highest risk of severe disease from RSV, meaning that some families who want to get the immunization product for their child may not be able to.

Babies at the highest risk for severe RSV disease include infants under 6 months old and babies under 8 months with underlying conditions that may mean they’re more susceptible to severe illness or hospitalization from RSV. The agency recommends providers prioritize doses of the shot to babies in those groups.

To preserve the supply, the CDC also recommends that the RSV shot not be given to babies between the ages of 8 to 19 months at this time. The shots were to be offered on a case by case basis for young children entering their second RSV season and who might be at risk of severe illness, but given the supply shortage, this recommendation has changed. Here’s what else to know about the RSV shot shortage—and how to protect your infant from RSV.

What’s causing the RSV shot supply shortage?

Drugmaker Sanofi said in a statement to The Washington Post that the company is working with partner AstraZeneca “to accelerate additional supply,” but it’s unclear as to when more shots will become available. The CDC says it continues to work with the manufacturers to understand how it can help accelerate supply.

“The shortage is pretty disheartening,” said Scott Roberts, an infectious-disease physician at Yale School of Medicine, to The Washington Post. “I had hoped we learned lessons from covid, where we foresee these challenges [because] it seems like this was a preventable shortage where they should have anticipated the demand.”

There is high demand for the shots, but the price is also a prohibitive factor: The cost for a single dose of Beyfortus is $495. The federal program Vaccines for Children pays $395 per dose, but as most pediatric primary care offices must purchase the product directly from suppliers and then file a claim with insurance companies and wait to be reimbursed, it’s a significant deterrent, experts told The Post.

Are RSV cases on the rise?

In September, the CDC observed an increase in positive RSV tests in Florida and Georgia and other Southeastern states. Historically, regional increases have predicted the beginning of RSV season nationally. The agency said it now expects cases to increase throughout the rest of the country in the next 1 to 2 months.

More than 58,000 kids under 5 require hospitalization due to RSV each year. Bronchiolitis and pneumonia can of course put a child in the hospital, but RSV doesn’t have to cause either of those for an infant to require round the clock medical treatment. Sometimes a severe RSV infection without those complications means a baby will require hospitalization so that their breathing can be monitored and IV fluids can be administered.

How to protect your infant

The RSV shot shortage news is worrying, but rest assured that there are steps to take to protect your baby against RSV. It’s important to remember that the majority of RSV cases are mild, with symptoms similar to the common cold, often passing in a week or two. But for some babies born prematurely or with chronic health conditions, RSV can lead to a more severe illness, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Here’s what you can do to try and prevent RSV.

Get the RSV maternal vaccine if you’re eligible

If you’re currently pregnant, health officials recommend that you get the maternal RSV vaccine to help protect your infant against RSV from birth. The FDA recently approved Abrysvo, the first vaccine approved for pregnancy to prevent lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in babies from birth through 6 months.

Approved for use at 32 weeks through 36 weeks of pregnancy, Pfizer’s Abrysvo has already been authorized for adults over age 60 and is given as a single injection into the muscle. The vaccine works by passing antibodies to developing infants from maternal circulation across the placenta during pregnancy, acting as a protective shield against the virus once they’re born.

Try breastfeeding for RSV protection

Recent research shows that breastfeeding for at least two months and ideally four to six may help protect babies from severe forms of the illness as well.

The most significant results from a February 2022 systematic review published in “Pediatrics” were seen with babies who were exclusively breastfeeding for at least four months, but the review shows that even partial breastfeeding (breastfeeding in combination with formula feeding) may reduce the severity of the disease, length of hospital stay and need for supplemental oxygen. Other studies support the benefits of combination feeding in preventing RSV too.

Take extra precautions

If you’re pregnant or have a child under 1, you might want to take extra precautions during RSV season to prevent respiratory illness. The CDC’s alert comes at a time when hospitalizations from Covid among children under 5 are also on the rise, making it even more important to practice good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick. Social distancing and mask-wearing can be difficult with young children (and masks shouldn’t be used in kids under 2), but taking these steps yourself could help limit the spread of RSV.

If you’re wondering if Beyfortus (nirsevimab) is available for your infant, reach out to your child’s pediatrician.